I think that anyone that reads any cruising publications is asking that same question and looking for the answer. But is it really that simple? There are still those out there that will tell you all you need is a stout ship, a well-built sextant and a wooden bucket and paradise is yours. Why, they will tell you that you don’t even need one of those noisy, smelly, infernal engines. And that is wonderful…..for them. For the rest of us, a little creature comfort and some additional equipment to enhance the experience and make our passages a little easier and safer is what we are looking for. Now I don’t mean for those of you with unlimited resources. That is a whole other article. Most of us are of average means and if we want to cruise then we really have to watch the cash flow.
Over sixteen years of living aboard and cruising have taught us many lessons and fine-tuned our requirements. Some things we have learned we can’t do without and others we really never needed. The first consideration was the boat. That choice will depend on where you plan to cruise and when. Running the ICW and coastal cruising will demand one type, while crossing oceans and even short offshore hops to the islands will require something entirely different. For us it meant a heavy displacement cruiser. We knew we would never be the first into the anchorage, but comfort, seaworthiness and above all sound construction was more important. Another big consideration was storage. When you consider a cruising boat, there is a very special exercise I like to perform. Sit down in the cabin and begin to mentally place everything you own on this vessel. See how quickly you run out of room. It helped us to decide NOT to buy some so called cruising boats and later proved to be a good exercise.
Once we decided on the boat, we were lucky in that the previous owner was one of those that didn’t need any extras. As a matter of fact the only cooking equipment on board was a very large gimbaled microwave oven and an electric frying pan. He seemed insulted that we wondered why there had never been a stove on board. The point is that a vessel like this will allow you to add the equipment you want in the manner you want. We have installed every piece of equipment on board. The reason being, if there is a problem, the installer is always on board. We have always done the installation according to manufactures recommendations and within safety standards. Sometimes it took a lot of studying and research in advance, but it always paid off later. So wadaya need?
Living on a boat shouldn’t be a lifelong camping experience. Our first installation was a propane stove. We considered other sources. Kerosene, diesel, and others. None gave us the convenience and familiarity that propane presented. We installed all the required safety equipment including automatic shut offs, sniffer sensors and a sealed locker vented to the outside of the boat. All met current safety standards. The next area was the head. We decided on a manual one since we did not want to increase our electrical demands. The shower was next since bucket baths on deck with salt water didn’t appeal to either of us. The hot water heater was already ten years old and that is about their shelf life. It was replaced with a stainless unit that would allow us to heat water with the engine. This was preferred since we don’t like to spend all our cruising dollars on marina stays. Being at anchor somewhere is what we believe cruising is all about. The addition of a Watermaker made staying at anchor in remote areas and not worrying about long showers more of a reality.
Every cruiser is concerned with the boats electrical demands. That and anchors is usually the topic of discussion whenever two or more cruisers get together. Our 110-volt needs are light. The TV and DVD player, a low watt microwave and occasionally hand power tools are about it. We opted for a 12-volt to 110-volt power inverter instead of a generator. We didn’t want another noisy, smelly, high maintenance system aboard. A 1850-watt inverter has worked well for us for many years. It is quiet and maintenance free. If you need lots of 110 for refrigerators and AC units then a generator is a must. We have never felt the need for AC when at anchor and we have spent most of our time in the tropics. A good sun awning and well-placed cabin fans went a long way to keeping us comfortable. Our refrigeration unit was originally an engine driven unit. It was another system that we removed even though it worked perfectly. The decision to go to 12 volt DC was to cut down on the need to run the engine at least twice daily and sometimes more.
The refrigeration decision changed our 12-volt DC needs dramatically. For quite some time our mizzen mount wind generator along with the engine alternator served our needs quite nicely. Now our daily amp hours almost doubled. We then added three a solar panel to try and make up the difference. It was adequate for a period of time. On long offshore passages where the autopilot, lights, computer and radar were running constantly it was not quite enough. Our engine alternator also proved to be too small. After a trip up and down the east coast, through the
, and the Turks and Bahamas and the south coast of Caicos, Dominican Republic we returned to the states to add a few things. That included two additional solar panels. We installed the largest we had room for and could afford. When the sun is shining they are silently charging our batteries with no muss or fuss. We also increased our alternator size to the largest our engine would accept. These additions so far have proved to more than meet our demands. If I could add more it would certainly be additional solar panels. Cuba
That brings us to the second most popular topic, anchors and ground tackle. Many of our cruising friends carry a gigantic storm anchor for those ultimate conditions. We considered this also, but decided on another approach. Instead of one large anchor, we added three oversized ones for the length and displacement of Sea Trek. Our primary and secondary are plow types and a back up danforth is stored aft. Being able to use any of the three or all of them at any given time made more sense to us than carrying around a big storm anchor we might never use. But having the three oversized ones still gave us pretty good confidence in just about any conditions we encountered. This has included ten hurricanes and four tropical storms. Did we mention Sea Trek is a storm magnet? Since much of our cruising is around and near coral and rocky bottoms we chose mostly chain ground tackle. Again, the largest our electric windless and anchor locker will allow. Nylon anchor rode will chafe through in a matter of hours on rocky or coral bottoms under the right conditions.
For us, staying in touch with both cruising and land based friends and family is important. In the beginning…we carried a portable SSB receiver to get weather reports and listen in on the many nets. After our first trip to the
we found we wanted to also talk with the folks we met and have access to any types of weather resources. A SSB transceiver was the next step. Then we arrived into the computer age. The wonders of a laptop for space, programs that brought us weather fax off the SSB, and navigational software that gave us real time plotting from the GPS (we have two) were new toys we couldn’t leave the dock without. Being at the dock introduced us to the Internet and email. Suddenly we were junkies. How could we ever go cruising without email???? At first we used and were very happy with the then new Pocketmail. We stayed in touch and got a regular email fix. Life was good. But as we wondered further away from home there were some drawbacks. Connecting in foreign countries was difficult, expensive and sometimes impossible. Then we discovered HF email and the wonderful Ham operators that would provide worldwide availability for no more than the cost of the equipment and a license. Replacing our perfectly good SSB with a new transceiver that had Ham capabilities was a must. Adding a TNC modem opened up the world to our daily email. The communications officer, after much studying and anguish, passed her Ham exam and now has the appropriate license. The safety issues of this type of set up are also very comforting. Bahamas
Safety is important to us. Sailing short handed offshore should never be taken lightly. ALL of the crew should know how to get the boat to safety if they are the only ones able to do so. The equipment we carry reflects our serious approach to this issue. We installed a life raft on deck in it’s own cradle prior to our first offshore passage. With research, we purchased what we believe to be one of the best. This was one area we decided that price should not enter into the equation. Jack lines from bow to stern are always attached. We decided on inflatable life vests with a built in harness. This has encouraged us to wear them any time we are out of the cabin offshore. They are reasonably comfortable and allow us to always be hanked on. We always carry the required flares, distress signals and additional safety equipment. A regular inspection tells us when they need replacing.
Creature comforts are also important to us. We truly believe that this enhances the whole experience. While we were still in northern climates we installed a diesel cabin heater. It is plumbed to our main fuel tank so no additional fuel sources or tanks are needed. Fortunately we have not needed it for years. A TV and DVD player is great for those like me that need a regular TV fix. We carry a large selection of DVDs since we have the storage space for them. We started collecting CD’s after a replacement of our 12-volt stereo system. We still have lots of cassette tapes. Sun awnings with water catchers built in and 12-volt fans throughout the boat serve as our air conditioning system. Add what you feel you would like to have.
Electronics have improved with leaps and bounds since we started cruising. We started out with a GPS, VHF, wind instruments and a SSB receiver. Today we carry two GPS receivers, one at the helm in the form of a chartplotter and one at the nav station. The nav station is connected to the laptop which has the latest navigation software installed. Electronic charts are wonderful and we use them extensively. But the paper charts are sitting directly under the computer for planning, reference and regular plotting just in case. Radar was another invaluable addition. We sailed without it for years. Once we installed it, we wondered how we ever got through it all. It is great for tracking weather and avoiding those odd squalls and also an invaluable tool for night passages. It will pick up anything else out there with you and sound an alarm to let you know if anyone is getting too close. We still have the wind instruments. I don’t have to explain to anyone the value of a good autopilot. Again, do some research before buying. One comment we heard over and over again about a very popular brand was that it had a wonderful service department. Almost every owner made the same comment. Naturally we avoided that one. Look at the recommended size for your vessel and go to at least the next size larger. This will really pay off in more difficult conditions. It also means that it will work much less. The wear and tear need for maintenance and breakdowns will be fewer. Power consumption will also be less.
The family car (Dinghy) is another consideration with lots of choices. We went with a ridged hull inflatable. We started with a fiberglass dinghy, which lasted all of a couple of weeks. After almost capsizing it a couple of times and many dings to the hull it quickly went away. We next went to a straight inflatable. This was convenient for storing on deck but hard on the dinghy when landing on rocky beaches. The RIB was a good compromise. We also added davits on the stern to carry it. It never spends a night in the water and we seldom have to do any serious cleaning to the bottom. It is also much more secure, since we can easily chain it to the mother ship. An appropriate size outboard is also necessary. It needs to be able to plane the dinghy with at least two people aboard and a reasonable amount of equipment or supplies. The larger the tube size and the higher the rise in the bow will help determine how dry you will stay in those choppy conditions.
Last but not least, one addition we added after our first trip up and down the ICW is one of my favorites. That was an anchor wash down system. We no longer have mud streaming down the decks and the hull each time we up anchor. It is a simple, straightforward installation. All you need is a salt-water pump, some fittings and hose. Another thru-hull is not really needed. You can tee into an existing one that is forward on the boat. It is also great for washing off fish parts when you catch this evenings’ dinner. Fishing is another subject.
I don’t mean to imply that this is the definitive answer to what you will need for cruising. This is what has worked for us over the years. Each boat and crew will have their own requirements and needs. Do what works for you. We are about to begin our next cruise and feel pretty good about our decisions. I am sure several of these points will be argued along the way. But then again, that is also part of the experience. We hope that whatever choices you make your voyages will be both safe and memorable. Fair winds.